Saturday, August 28, 2010
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
For those of you who didn't go to a boarding school and don't spend much time in monasteries, a refectory is a large communal dining hall.
This is the refectory at the Benedicitine monastery in Thu Duc, on the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City.
I frequent this particular monastery, and when I share the monks’ lunch in the refectory, they go to hunt down a truly massive mahogany chair, intended for the hallowed buttocks of visiting Bishops. They kindly drag it into the communal eating hall for my benefit, so I don't have to sit on the precarious plastic chairs you can see in this picture.
The monks' meals are simple, but because we eat in silence I always take especial notice of what we are eating. Indeed, if I arrive early enough I am often invited into the kitchen to watch the monks prepare the meals. It is always soup, a simple salad (no dressing) and a plain stir-fry, frequently vegetarian. It is served up with low-grade rice. On some special days bananas are served, but generally fruit is forbidden.
Sunday, August 15, 2010
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
But the fact is that creative types can often become so absorbed in their work that they forget the people who helped them in all kinds of ways. In fact, artists and writers are, in the popular mind at least, among the most selfish and needy people imaginable. Prove the stereotypes wrong by being generous, gracious and grateful. These are more than just personal virtues - they also help speed the creative process, and help you to realise your creative goals (including that of being published).
I had the great good fortune to become an author after years of working in the book industry, where I saw first-hand what monsters authors can be (see my earlier post about things authors do to piss off booksellers). There's just no excuse for this - invariably the biggest egos and most unrealistic demands emerge from the smallest talents. It is also, in the end, incredibly counter-productive. Your publisher has a lot of authors to deal with, so does your publicist and sales team. Booksellers have thousands of other books they can recommend to people, or put in their front windows. Why would they go the extra mile for someone who they know only as an ungrateful whiner?
In a terrific little book called Guerilla Networking, authors Jay Conrad Levinson and Monroe Mann devote a whole chapter to the persuasive power of gratitude. As they say, "in this day and age, even just sending a quick ten-second text message would be more appreciation than most people receive in an entire year." Sadly, that's all too true. We live in a society where we are encouraged to complain, to find fault and to insist on our rights. We seem to have forgotten how to thank the people who have helped us and recognised our uniqueness.
I really believe that authors have an especial need for support and help. We tend to be sensitive, and we tend to soak up information around us, always looking for leads, always looking for information. When was the last time you thanked someone for recommending a movie, a book, a website that proved invaluable to your project?
And as authors, we have the wonderful privilege of an acknowledgements section at the beginning of our books, in which we can thank publicly and for all time those who have worked hard for our success. This is an incredible gift - use it wisely and generously.
Who do we have to thank? Partners, family, friends, people who have encouraged our dreams, teachers and spiritual guides. On the professional front we owe an enormous debt of gratitude to our publishers, editors, booksellers, publicists, sales and marketing people, reviewers and journalists, designers, readers, librarians, fellow authors... Seek out every opportunity to thank these people in public and in private - you'd be amazed how few bother.
And how do we thank them?
- I am a huge fan of the letter and card, but sms messages, emails and phone calls will do just as well. Drop by with small gifts (don't expect to see busy people in person - leave the gift with reception and they will receive the most wonderful surprise when they emerge from a dull meeting) - a bookselling friend of mine was recently over the moon because a customer who had won a prize in her store dropped by with a jar of home-made jam as thanks, something which had never happened before. How simple it is to make someone happy by acknowledging their kindness and generosity.
- When you do events, talks and readings, mention people by name - people are always thrilled by this. Of course, you need to do this briefly and sparingly, as you have to consider the rest of your audience.
- In this age of social media, it is easy to thank people by helping them to spread their message. Promote the books of author friends. Promote the events of bookstores that have supported you. Be active in their Facebook groups, tweet and re-tweet them, post pics on your blog. And how about some publisher loyalty? Take an active interest in the list of your publishing house and promote other books and authors who are part of your stable.
- Go to their events. It is only since I have become an author myself that I have realised how important events are to those organising them and appearing at them. Believe me, your presence is noted and remembered forever after. It is worth making the effort.
I'll leave the final word to the legendary Dale Carnegie: Always be hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise!
Monday, August 2, 2010
Recently I have begun to teach some creative writing classes and I am also writing a monthly column on getting published for a small community magazine . This means that I am regularly asked questions about how to succeed as an author, or how to promote a book once it's written and published. I have also begun to receive really lovely emails from my readers, many of whom have their own writing ambitions and have asked quite specific questions. So I'd like to share with you some of the techniques for making your first book a success.
Number one in importance is: Blogging!
I understand that many established authors are not interested in blogging, or don't have the time. But for any new writer (particularly one who is not yet published!) blogging has become absolutely essential. If you haven't yet published it is an opportunity to collect a substantial body of work that publishers, agents and magazine editors can refer to and so discover for themselves what a literary genius you are. If you have been lucky enough to be published, it provides a way for you to build on what you have written, provide extra content for your readers and keep yourself in the public mind.
No matter where you are in the writing process, it is essential that you start blogging NOW - and keep at it regularly (once a week as a minimum). I am perplexed when I see some people advising not to start your blog until you are published. That is just bizarre. In my own experience, my profile as a blogger was one of the main reasons a publishing house decided to take me on.
There's nothing like a blog for turning you into a legend in your own lunch time, and it's amazing how impressive it can seem to those who are less technically savvy (and yes, that includes many editors, publishers and other industry people). And a blog gives you the perfect opportunity to cross-promote on Facebook and Twitter, making it seem as though you are incredibly prolific, busy and important. And that is exactly what any publishing house is looking for in an author.
Some people express a fear that the things they blog will be plagiarised. Yes, it's a risk, but you should be so lucky. Your major struggle will almost certainly not be being copied, but being noticed in the first place.
In her wonderful book The Frugal Book Promoter, author Carolyn Howard-Johnson also explains the importance of getting a good URL early on. Yes, it's most important to get started NOW, so sign up with Blogger or one of the others - it's easy to route teh blog you've started to your own URL later. But really, one of the first things you should be doing is buying the domain names for your own name (if still possible) and your next book's title (once you know for sure). This is inexpensive and easy.
Some people say they don't know what to blog about - they are afraid of losing privacy or, worse, appearing egotistical. If those are genuine concerns, then may I respectfully suggest that you are in the wrong game. The age of the shy and retiring writer has long gone - J. D. Salinger would never make it in the 21st century, for better or for worse. Yes, you will lose some privacy, but only as much as you choose to sacrifice. And yes, some people will accuse you of being egotistical. Such critics are normally distinguished by their complete lack of success in the world. Bless them and move on.
More and more publishers are expecting their authors to blog and to maintain a presence on social media. And the fact is that surprisingly few do it. If you get started now, and do it well, you place yourself in a privileged - and even cherished - minority.
You can see by this photograph that I am a big man.
So when I'm in Vietnam, I’m a great breaker of furniture.
At almost all restaurants the only furniture available is the flimsy plastic stools designed to hold the weight of the slender Vietnamese. The stools are probably designed to withstand a load of 50 kilos or so. I am a couple of kilos more ;-)
At restaurants where I am known, the owners make a great charade of stacking 3 or 4 stools one on top of the other in order to take my weight. It is humiliating, certainly, but it seems to be an effective solution to the problem of shattered seats - and shattered pride.